The Vedic Sacrifice of Praja͂pati: A Sacrificial Prototype or Ancient Prophecy?
At the core of both Hindu cosmology and theology is the belief that only sacrifice can preserve the universe. The forefathers of Hinduism, the Aryans, viewed the universe as created, sustained, and existing in a constant state of sacrifice. These beliefs are recorded in the oldest Hindu Scriptures, the Vedas, wherein hardly a hymn can be found that doesn’t either allude to or mention directly the nature, role, or importance of sacrifice as a central aspect of religion. These ancient philosophical speculations influenced the entire religious and social structure of Hinduism.
Sacrifice, as an act of worship, has become dominant in Hindu worship and thought because it serves as a vehicle or means to connect the worshiper with the one ultimate reality (Brahman). The quest to reunite the soul (atman) with the cosmic soul (Brahman) is carried out through the devotional acts associated with the rites of sacrifice. This complex system of cultic worship as expressed in the various devotional acts is at the core of Hindu theology and practice, which suggests that nearly every aspect of Hinduism is intimately connected to the Vedic doctrine of sacrifice. Religious sacrifices (yajn͂a), therefore, are a central and universally binding component of Hinduism.
In order to understand how the Vedic concept of sacrifice is directly connected to the most important aspects of Hindu theology and practice, one must consider the role the Brahmans (priestly caste) play in this system. Needing validation for their status at the top of the caste system, the Brahmans had to justify both the sacrificial system and their role in facilitating it. According to Alain Daielou, the entire corpus of the Vedas and the sacrificial system itself are likely the invention of this same group, the Aryans, who later formed the Brahman caste in order to maintain social order and, more importantly to them, protect their privileged status. Prior to their conquest of the Indus valley, there is no evidence of the Aryans being divided by a caste system. Likewise, before their appearance in India, the Aryans did not recognize a unique priestly sect within their culture and any one of them could receive and disseminate religious doctrines. They justified and solidified their place at the top of the caste system by establishing themselves as the custodians of the ancient myths and practices that undergirded the entire religious system. It is likely that the Aryans modified their Zoroastrian doctrines of sacrifice to create a religion that would keep themselves at the top of society and keep the much larger and native population in subjugation. By modifying their religious beliefs and practices, the Aryans ensured that only they, as the priestly Brahman caste, could interpret the Vedic teaching and officiate the sacrifices, which created a unique and indispensable place for them in Hindu life.
The basis for the Aryan religious system is found throughout the Vedas; however, the central role of sacrifice is vividly illustrated in the myth that describes the self-sacrifice of the mythical creator par excellence, Praja͂pati. This ancient legend is the justification and reason for the Vedic sacrifices. The story describes the creation of the universe as the result of Praja͂pati’s emanation and justifies the doctrine of sacrifice as the means to reuniting his body. As the authoritative interpreters of the Vedas and priests who officiate the sacrifices, the prestigious place of the Brahmans in Hindu life is secured in the myth of Praja͂pati. Therefore, the interpretation of this creation myth and its place in Hindu theology is essential to debunking the theory that Jesus Christ was prophesied in the Hindu scriptures.
The centrality of the sacrificial system and its alleged parallels to Christianity are the reasons why a few Christian apologists and evangelists have used the story of Praja͂pati to evangelize Hindus. In response to this missiological approach, this article will provide both a synopsis and interpretation of the legend of Praja͂pati. Furthermore, this article will present and critique the arguments put forward by a few of the Christian apologists who interpret this legend as an ancient prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ. First, Krishna Mohan Banerjea (1813-1885), who was considered to be the foremost Indian Christian apologist of the nineteenth century and the chief exponent of the “fulfillment theory,” claimed that Jesus Christ not only resembles the primitive Praja͂pati, but is the true Praja͂pati. Second, Joseph Padinjarekara, a contemporary apologist who employs a far more radical approach to interpreting and applying the myth to Jesus. Although both apologists contend that the self-sacrifice of Praja͂pati was prophetically fulfilled in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, Padinjarekara’s deceptive use of terminology makes his approach far more dangerous in Christian missions.
Finally, this article will argue that myth of Praja͂pati is not an ancient prophecy alluding to or fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and that terminology associated with this myth should not be associated with or applied to Him. Instead, I contend that the story of Praja͂pati must be understood as a fabricated myth to support the worldview and sacrificial system of Hinduism that was originally constructed to protect the privileged place of the elite priestly caste. This myth, therefore, should not be used as either a conversational “bridge” to Jesus or, worse, as a prophecy pointing to Jesus when evangelizing Hindus.
The Self-Sacrifice of Praja͂pati: A Prototype for the Hindu Sacrificial System
Hinduism is not a standalone, single religion; rather it is a federation of religions that are bound together socially and spiritually by several factors . The most significant social factor is the caste system. The primary spiritual factor that connects Hindus is the belief in reincarnation. The two factors are combined in the belief that a person’s place in society is the result of their actions in a previous life. The goal in this life, therefore, is to accumulate enough merit to advance to a higher status in the next. At the top of the caste system are the Brahmans who have achieved this esteemed position through meritorious actions in previous lives and numerous rebirths. Without submitting to the teachings of the priestly caste (Brahmans) and adhering to the precepts of the sacrificial system, the Hindu cannot progress in the cycle of rebirth. The devout Hindu, however, can and must expect, through rebirth, to climb the caste system with the goal of being reborn into the Brahman caste. The priestly caste stands atop the social and sacred structures of Hindu life as the ideal of the societal structure and gatekeepers of religious life. They Brahmans do so because only they can correctly understand and administer the sacrifices. Achieving a place among the highest caste, the Hindu now has a chance at ending the cycle of rebirth and being reunited with the cosmic soul. Before achieving this goal, the Brahman must faithfully administer the plethora of priestly duties, chief among them being the religious rituals involving sacrifice.
The sacrificial system is the fundamental means of achieving merit to ensure a successful rebirth, which will hopefully propel the worshiper to a higher place in society, albeit in the next life. The devotee practices the prescribed rituals with the intention of receiving blessings in this life and merit for the next. By presenting gifts to the images of the gods or goddess, the worshiper is expressing a desire to communion with the deity. This temporal communion is an act that expresses the ultimate goal of the rituals, which is to achieve a permanent union with the cosmic soul. Additionally, the ceremonial acts of sacrifice administered by the Brahmans are meant to provide the worshipers with a visual presentation of the eternal reality, namely the reunification of the entire universe with the cosmic soul. Sacrifice, in the Vedic sense, constitutes the vital point of every aspect of creation and therefore becomes a vast system of symbols that are meant to remind the worshiper of where he came from, how and why he exists, and, ultimately, what is to become of him after this life. With each subsequent sacrifice, the Hindu is participating in the reunification of some aspect of the universe with the one ultimate reality. By doing so, the worshiper confesses that he believes that by performing or participating in the sacrifice he becomes the sacrifice. H. Aguilar writes, “In the Vedic sense to sacrifice is to be sacrificed.” The ritualistic actions of the worshipers are merely an external display of their internal desire to be reunited with the cosmic soul. Aguilar writes, “From the Vedic standpoint the performance of the sacrifice is not just an external performance; it is rather the externalization of something which lies within.” The sacrificial system is the vehicle for the reuniting of the many (individuals) with the one (Brahman). This doctrine is based, in large part, on the myth of Praja͂pati’s self-sacrifice as described in the Rig-Veda 10.121:1-10:
In the beginning the Golden Embryo [stirred and] evolved:
Once born he was the one Lord of [every] being;
This heaven and earth did he sustain
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
Giver of life (atman), giver of strength,
Whose behests all [must] obey,
Whose shadow is immortality,
Whose [shadow] death
What God shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
Who by his might has ever been the One
King of all that all breathes and blinks the eye,
Who rules all creatures that have two or four feet
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
By whose might the snowy peaks,
By whose [might], they say, the sea
With Rasa, [the earth-encircling stream],
By whose [might] the cardinal directions
Which are his arms,
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
By who strong heaven and earth are held in place,
By whom the sun is given a firm support,
By whom the firmament, by whom the ether (rajas)
Is measured out within the atmosphere
What God shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
To whom opposing armies, strengthened by his help,
Look up, though trembling in their hearts,
By whom the risen sun sheds forth its light
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
When the mighty waters moved, conceived that All
As an embryo, giving birth to fire,
Then did he evolve, the One life-force (asu) of the gods
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
Who looked upon the waters, [looked on them] with power,
As they conceived insight, brought forth the sacrifice;
Who, among the gods, was the One God above
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
May he not harm us, father of the earth,
Who generated heaven, for truth is his law,
Who gave birth to the waters—shimmering, strong
What god shall we revere with the oblation [offering]?
Praja͂pati! None other than thou hath comprehended
All these [creatures] brought to birth.
Whatever desires be ours in offering up
The oblation [offering] to thee, may that be ours!
May we be lords of riches!
The universe, according to the Vedas, is made up of the emanated parts of the creator god, also known as the Lord of Creatures or the golden embryo (Praja͂pati). As the golden embryo, Praja͂pati is recognized as the source and substance of everything in creation. R. C. Zaehner writes that Praja͂pati is both “the universe and the life-force that pervades it, he is both death and immortality; but he is also creator and generator of heaven and earth; king and lord of all that lives and breathes, and the ruler of all things.” This sacrificial act of distributing himself into innumerable pieces in order to create the universe is the basis for the entire Vedic sacrificial system. Brian Smith describes Praja͂pati’s sacrifice as a “prototypical blueprint which is also replicated at the human level.” Everything seen and unseen, living and non-living has Praja͂pati as its source. Thus, the eschatological purpose, in Hinduism, is to reunite all things (animate and inanimate) back into the original source. This reunification can only take place through the prescribed Vedic sacrificial rituals.
As the most ancient version of the creator god in the Vedic tradition, Praja͂pati’s attributes and characteristics have been ascribed to later gods such as Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma. For example, Mariasusai Dhavamony states that the supreme god Rudra-Siva is the combination of the polytheistic and pantheistic concepts of god found in earlier Hinduism in the god Praja͂pati. Another example is the god Purusa, who is described as a primordial man who has his body cut up to make the various parts of the universe. Subsequently, in Hindu theology Purusa has become associated with or identified as Praja͂pati. This association is likely due to the similarities between the effects of the two myths. Similar to Praja͂pati’s creative emission, Purusa’s sacrifice is described as the source of the universe. Moreover, Purusa’s head became the sky, his navel the air, his feet the earth, the moon sprang forth from his mind, from his eyes the sun, and his breath the wind. Zeahner explains that the Purusa narrative is likely a modification of the myth of Praja͂pati in order to teach the divine origins of humanity. Regardless of the intention, and even though the name of the main character and minor elements of the myth have changed, the myth of Praja͂pati remains the primary source and standard for the earthly sacrifices conducted by the Hindu priests.
Praja͂pati’s place in the Rig Veda and influence on later myths established him as the prototype for both his successors and the sacrificial system itself. As the most ancient of the gods, he can be classified as the most significant god in Vedic cosmology. According to the Vedas, every molecule of creation is part of Praja͂pati’s body. Hence, creation is currently in a scattered state of constant turmoil and will remain so until the final particle is reunified with the cosmic soul. Theoretically, without the Hindu sacrificial system, the world would fall into an irreversible state of chaos. This fatalistic concept is explained by Dhavamony, “It was by a sacrifice that the gods delivered the world from chaos, that man prevents it from lapsing into it, and the dismemberment of the Purusa was regarded as the first act of sacrifice.” Sacrifice in Hinduism is therefore simultaneously an act of maintaining order and an attempt to regain the original unity or the reconstruction of the body of Praja͂pati. Smith provides a helpful summary of the essence of sacrifice in Hinduism when he writes, “And what is the essential in the sacrifice? In the first place, to divide, and in the second to reunite. He [Praja͂pati] being One, becomes or is made into Many, and being Many becomes again or is put together again as One.” In the Hindu worldview, sacrifice is how the universe came into existence, it is how the universe is currently sustained and is the way that all of creation will be restored to its original state.
Interpretation & Application of Praja͂pati’s Sacrifice
Understanding and applying the myth of Praja͂pati can be difficult because of the numerous ways in which the Hindu scriptures are interpreted. These challenges are amplified by the fact that there are no governing hermeneutical principles to guide the reader. The Hindu scholar Aguilar celebrates the ambiguous nature of the Vedas as well as the challenges related to interpreting the text. He writes, “The Veda can mean very different things for different people.”
Although there are no authoritative means by which to interpret the Hindu text, the reader can gain a basic understanding of the myths by reading the ancient commentaries. These priestly commentaries, known as the Brahmanas, are attached to each of the four collections of Vedas and offer a detailed explanation of the complex religious rituals. According to the Satapatha Brahmana (commentary), Praja͂pati’s creative activity took place on an altar in order to establish both the mode and the purpose of sacrifices:
Being about to build Agni (the fire-altar), he takes him up into his own self; for from out of his own self he causes him to be born, and wherefrom one is born, such like he becomes. Now were he to build up Agni without taking him up into his own self, he would beget man from man, mortal from mortal, one not freed from sin from one not freed from sin; but when he builds up Agni after taking him up into his own self, he causes Agni to be born from Agni, the immortal from the immortal, the sinless from the sinless.
Regardless of one’s interpretive presuppositions, the reader cannot ignore the sacrificial imagery of the fire-altar (fireplace) and the role it plays in this primordial sacrifice. In a related text, the Satapatha Brahmana provides a description of Praja͂pati actually becoming the altar, “The Karakas slaughter (a he-goat) for Praja͂pati, saying, ‘Praja͂pati, having built up the fire-altar (Agni), became Agni. When he slaughters that one, then indeed he reaches the end of Agni (the fire-altar).” This same idea is further stated, “That same Person became Praja͂pati, and that Person which became Praja͂pati is this very Agni, who is now (to be) built.” A cursory reading of these commentaries reveal that the god Praja͂pati is the originator of the sacrificial system, the first and most significant sacrifice, and the altar on which the sacrificial act was performed.
In addition to the symbolic nature of sacrifice, in Hinduism, the actual act itself is interpreted as a power transfer on the part of the worshiper to a god. In an important passage in the Satapatha Brahmana (18.104.22.168-11), Praja͂pati is presented as powerless because he has emptied himself in his creative emanation. Fearing that without his power the world cannot be sustained, the gods and humanity must use the power of sacrifice to restore him. The act of sacrifice is therefore not a display of a god’s sovereign power over humanity, but a display of how powerless he is without his worshippers. Consequently, the most powerful player in sacrifice is the worshiper who provides the elements that ensure the final reconstitution of Praja͂pati’s body.
The Satapatha Brahmanas are not concerned with the historicity of the events, rather they are attempting to ensure that every aspect of this archetypal sacrifice is presented in a way that justifies the entire sacrificial system. J. Gonda provides some clarity on this issue writing,
The construction of the great fireplace, the god, who is the sacrifice, is restored to unity, his several forms and members are re-integrated and consolidated. That is to say, the fireplace ‘symbolizes’ the combining of the scattered and uncoordinated elements of the phenomenal universe into one single organic structure.
The priestly interpretations of this first sacrifice, therefore, are meant to define and defend all aspects of the sacrifice as being directly tied to the reunification of the creation with Praja͂pati. As Smith facetiously observes, “Unlike all the king’s horse and all the king’s men . . . the connective power of ritual can put the shattered Praja͂pati back together again.”
The Sacrifice of Praja͂pati and the Hindu Worldview
According to Hindu cosmology, the universe was not created by an eternal deity who exists outside of and apart from creation. Moreover, the universe as it exists today was not created ex nihilo (out of nothing). Instead, the universe is made up of eternal matter that was in a chaotic state, possibly from a previous era, and organized into one cosmic soul, also referred to as the “Golden Womb.” This god then divided himself into countless pieces to recreate the universe with the goal of being reunited through sacrifice. This same activity has continued through endless eras and can restart after the consummation of each age. The universe, therefore, exists in a perpetual cycle of death and rebirth. This view of creation is the primary reason that many Hindus accept and submit to the socially oppressive caste system. Furthermore, this understanding of the universe is why some Hindus can, on the one hand, revere an animal while conversely ignore a starving human being. According to the Hindu worldview, this behavior is not unloving but rather a display of justice because the impoverished person will eventually die and be given another chance to advance in the cycle of rebirth.
The Self-Sacrifice of Praja͂pati: An Ancient Prophecy Fulfilled in Jesus Christ?
The worldview that either originates from or is the basis of the myth of Praja͂pati is diametrically opposed to that of the Christian worldview. The two religions have entirely different concepts of God’s nature, his creative work, and his creative purposes. Rene Girad believes the worldview of the Vedic scriptures is a world unknown to the West. Unlike the Vedic cosmology, the book of Genesis teaches that one God alone existed apart from his creation and that nothing existed until he spoke it into being (Genesis 1-2). Furthermore, the Creator in the Christian worldview did not create from himself and did not become part of the universe. Finally, the purposes of creation in the two worldviews are in conflict. In both Hinduism and Christianity, the purpose of creation is discovered in what takes place at the end of this era. In the Vedic view, the consummation of all things is the end of the individual self through reunification with cosmic one. In the Christian worldview, however, the individual does not cease to exist. At the end of this age, the Christian God is eternally glorified by innumerable persons who continue to dwell as individuals (Revelation 7:9). Whereas in Hinduism there is no one left to do anything. These differences are irreconcilable and must be considered when evaluating the fulfillment theory that purports that Jesus Christ is the true Praja͂pati.
The Fulfillment Theory
The fulfillment theory, which was made popular by Krishna Banerjea, portrays the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the myth of Praja͂pati. This belief can be traced through a very simple, yet radical, concept. Proponents believe that revelation given to Adam and survived in part among the ancient Aryan religion. The importance of sacrifice was passed down through the generations and continued through Noah after the great flood. Banerjea contends that the pre-Hindu sacrificial system of the Aryans (Persians or Indo-Aryans) survived, in part, in the Vedas. He writes,
The first acts of religion consisted in the offering of sacrifice. This is curiously coincident with the Biblical account of Abel’s offering in the Ante-Diluvian World. Noah’s offering in the Post-Diluvian World equally corresponds to the paka offering of Manu, the surviving man after the Flood in Vedic legends. In the whole description of the patriarchal dispensation, the Veda seems to follow the lines of the Bible—the only difference being in the greater clearness and still the greater firmness and certainty of decision with which monotheism is upheld in the Jewish Scriptures. Almost in all other respects, the Vedas represent with equal clearness the ideals of the patriarchal dispensation in the ages of Noah, of Abraham, of Melchizedek, of Job and of other similar characters noticed in the Bible—when religious devotion was manifested by sacrifices and offerings as types of the Divine Savior, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Indeed they indicate a state of religious thought still closer to the Christian ideal in its maturity.
As a Christian, Banerjea believed that the sacrifices of the Old Testament are based on the original revelation concerning sacrifice given to Adam and are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Since the Vedas allegedly possess strands of the same revelation and because Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that revelation, then, according to Banerjea, Jesus must be the fulfillment of the Vedic system as well. In other words, although the Vedas are not considered divine revelation, they do possess some truth which points to and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Banerjea’s fulfillment theory was not simply a theological position concerning the sacred status of the Vedas. His conception of Christ as the fulfillment of Vedic teachings was primarily a reaction to the polemical attitude of English missionaries toward the Hindu culture and an attempt to legitimize an oppressed people. In his book The Arian Witness, he begins by presenting a rather positive history of the Aryans and then describes how the revelation that is recorded in the Old Testament has remained, in part, in the Vedic teaching on sacrifice. His theory, therefore, is an attempt to blend biblical revelation with various traditions and texts that either predate or have survived in Hinduism in order to validate Indo-Asian culture as equally important as Western Christianity in redemptive history.
The fulfillment theory is built on several flawed suppositions concerning the nature of the Vedas as compared to the Old Testament. The first fallacy concerns the relationship between the two ancient religious texts. Banerjea goes to great lengths to present the Vedas, especially the 129th Hymn of the Rig Veda, as supporting the revelation from God in the book of Genesis. He begins by presenting the Genesis account of creation as superior to the Vedas, yet he does not believe that the two are contradictory. In fact, he goes to extremes to demonstrate that while the Vedas do not fully declare the truths written in the Genesis account, nevertheless, they confirm these truths. Additionally, Banerjea claims that the concept and characters involved in the fall of humanity (Genesis 3) are present in the ancient Aryan religion. Throughout his argument, the line between the Vedic teaching and that of the theoretical pre-Vedic traditions is blurred. The tradition that Banerjea refers to is not Hinduism, but Zoroastrianism, the ancient Iranian (Persian) religion. When Banerjea cannot find a parallel in the Vedas he simply reaches back to Zoroastrianism and claims that since it was the basis for the primitive Aryan religion it is a valid comparison. This approach blurs the lines between what is written in Vedas and the doctrines of their ancient Persian ancestors.
The second flawed supposition in Banerjea’s theory is the quasi-authority that he ascribes to the Vedas. He views the narratives of the Bible as historically true and then asserts that remnants of these events have survived in the Vedas. Beyond the accounts of creation and the fall, Banerjea states the global flood, Noah, and the confusion of the languages survived in the ancient Aryan religion. It is not hard to believe that significant historical events of one culture become part of the traditions and religious beliefs of its neighboring cultures. However, it is careless to presents these traditions as being on par with the divine revelation in the Bible. The thoughtless reader can easily be convinced that although the Vedas are not equally inspired or authoritative as the Old Testament, they can be considered important texts that support revelatory truths. This approach to scriptural inclusion leaves the door open for deuterocanonical status being applied not only to the Vedas but to any number of sacred texts that appear to support or parallel the Bible.
Further complicating the matter, Banerjea presents the Vedic concept of sacrifice as the most fully developed of all ancient civilizations; a claim he does not prove. Additionally, he argues that these Vedic sacrifices are based on the model revealed to Adam and later to Noah. Believing that the sacrificial emphasis in the Vedas supports his fulfillment theory, Banerjea writes, “The practice of sacrifices, as a mode of propitiating the gods or supernatural powers, has indeed existed among all nations. We do not, however, know of any nation which manifested such an intelligible view of the underlying doctrines as the primitive Aryans did in their early writings.” His theory is that the Aryan concept of sacrifice, which is presented in the myth of Praja͂pati, displays a common thread that can be traced back to the original revelation given by God in Genesis. In Christian theology, Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system prescribed after the fall of humanity. According to Banerjea, this same system influenced the pre-Vedic religion of the Aryans, therefore, Jesus must be the fulfillment of it as well. According to Banerjea, “No person can be a true Hindu without being a true Christian.” He was convinced that the relationship between the Vedic doctrine of sacrifice and Christianity were somehow or in some way so interconnected that one “could not hold one without being led to the other, nor could you hold to one and resist the other.”
Finally, Banerjea asserts that there is sufficient “clearness that in conception of the Indo-Aryans, the institution of sacrifices was coeval [equal in age] with the creation, curiously confirming the idea of ‘the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’” Based on this statement, one can surmise that if the fulfillment theory is true then both the Vedas and Hindu culture are validated as legitimate in redemptive history. Therein lies the real purpose of this theory, namely, to present Indian culture as equal to that of its nineteenth-century European oppressors. Although I sympathize with Banerjea’s struggle against racism and oppression, I disagree with his interpretation and appropriation of the Genesis narratives in an effort to legitimize his religious theories.
The Fulfillment Theory–Reborn
Joseph Pandinjarekara, a Sanskrit language scholar, who writes in the late twentieth-century, makes many of the same claims as Banerjea. Pandinjarekara, however, never acknowledges Banerjea in his book, nor does he list him in his bibliography. In fact, he claims to have come upon the notion that Christ is presented and predicted in the Vedas through independent study. His theory, though devoid of any direct reference to Banerjea’s fulfillment theory appears to be a repackaged presentation of the same arguments. Furthermore, like Banerjea, Pandinjarekara interprets the Vedas and the Bible in ways that invalidate both. There is one major difference, however, between the two proponents of this theory: Padinjarekara’s theory is far more theologically dangerous and biblically dishonest than his predecessor. Pandinjarekara’s approach is a great example of the precarious way in which a person can twist the Scriptures in order to support an unbiblical concept. His arguments, therefore, are a good tool to understand how the Christian Scriptures should not be used in cross-cultural evangelism.
The temptation to validate aspects of another religion in order to evangelize unbelievers is a threat to the true gospel. On the one hand, all truth is God’s truth. However, similarity to divine revelation does not necessarily make a philosophy or ideology true. Padinjarekara has fallen prey to this temptation by misrepresenting and misapplying the biblical narratives in Genesis. His theory that the person and work of Jesus Christ, as prophesied in the Old Testament and recorded in the New Testament, is revealed in the Vedas is problematic for several reasons.
The primary problem with Padinjarekara’s understanding of both the myth of Praja͂pati and the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ is his method of scriptural interpretation. The only consistent element of his hermeneutical approach is his misrepresentation of both the Hindu and Christian scriptures. He misrepresents both texts by inserting Jesus’ name and identity into Vedic passages that are describing Praja͂pati or Purusa. Moreover, he inserts the names Praja͂pati and Purusa into biblical narratives and passages. He forces parallels between Jesus and Praja͂pati by misinterpreting and misrepresenting both the Vedas and the Bible. This approach is a real and present danger in cross-cultural evangelism. Missionaries must be prepared therefore to draw clear distinctions between the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible over and against any alleged similarities or parallels in competing religious texts or traditions.
Another significant problem with Padinjarekara’s approach is that he completely ignores the vast differences between the Christian and Hindu worldviews. He erroneously believes that religious concepts such as mukti (deliverance or escape from the cycle of rebirth) in Hinduism and salvation in Christianity are universally understood and interchangeably applied. Nothing could be further from the truth and damaging to Christian evangelism than a presentation of the gospel wrapped in a worldview that is diametrically opposed to Christianity’s core tenants. In the Hindu worldview, Praja͂pati does not represent a historical figure in the sense that Jesus does in the Christian worldview. Furthermore, Praja͂pati is not understood by the Hindus as being the eternal creator who exists apart from and outside of creation. The New Testament teaching that Jesus Christ, as the eternal Son of God, existed outside of both space and time (John 1:1, 14) is in complete contradiction to the Vedic teaching of Praja͂pati’s character and existence. Unlike, Praja͂pati, who used preexistent matter, God the Father through God the Son (John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-16; Heb 1:1-2) spoke creation into existence out of nothing. Furthermore, Praja͂pati’s self-sacrifice left him weak and dependent upon his creatures to reinstate his power through sacrifice. The Son of God, however, demonstrated the power of God by sacrificing himself to defeat the powers that held humanity captive (Col 1:13; 2:13-15; Rev 1:17-18).
Using the fulfillment theory in the evangelization of Hindus is dangerous because instead of presenting Jesus as supreme and sovereign over creation, he appears like Praja͂pati, who is contingent upon his worshipers for survival. Any missiological method that presents the myth of Praja͂pati as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ diminishes the person and work of Jesus as well as the power of the gospel.
The Hindu interpretation of the myth of Praja͂pati is understood and applied in a worldview that is completely different and opposed to the Christian worldview. Unlike the Old and New Testament narratives, the story of Praja͂pati is not considered in Hindu cosmology as a historical event. Furthermore, this Vedic myth is used as a justification for the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation as well as a validation of the oppressive caste system. Finally, the notion that the Vedic teachings on sacrifice flow from the revelation given to Adam and subsequently to Abel, Noah, and other patriarchs is without merit. This foundational component of the fulfillment theory was never proven by either Banerjea or Pandinjarekara, and without it, the theory collapses under its own weight.
Any similarities that might exist between the story of Praja͂pati’s creative emanation and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ are superficial and should not be taken seriously. Moreover, any attempt to present the gospel on top of a hostile worldview will inevitably lead to syncretism. Christian missionaries must avoid using the fulfillment theory as a method in evangelism because it gives credence to the Vedas and presents the myth of Praja͂pati as legitimate. Furthermore, this method must be abandoned because it demotes the unique authority of the Bible and diminishes both the person and atoning sacrifice of the Son of God.
Look for my next post describing my experiences in engaging Hindu priests and laymen with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alain Daniélou, The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1985), 63.
Anonymous, Jesus in the Vedas: Or the Testimony of Hindu Scriptures in Corroboration of the Rudiments of Christian Doctrine (London: Forgotten Books, 2012), 16.
Brian K. Smith, “Sacrifice and Being: Praja͂pati’s Cosmic Emission and Its Consequences,” Numen 32, no. 1 (July 1985): 71–87, provides a helpful description of how Hindus understand the role of sacrifice. He writes, “In Vedism, ritual activity at all levels does not merely ‘interpret,’ ‘symbolize,’ or ‘dramatize;’ it constitutes, constructs and integrates. Ritual forms the naturally formless; it connects the inherently disconnected, and it heals the ‘sickness’ of excess” (72).
Alain Daniélou, A Brief History of India, trans. Kenneth Hurry (Rochester. VT: Inner Traditions, 2003), 44 According to Danielou, the Brahman caste represent the ancient Aryan priests and the Kshatriya caste represent the ancient Dravidian princes. The two groups, who represented different religions and people groups, morphed into one religion with both of groups securing the privileged places in society. It is plausible therefore to conclude that Hinduism has developed and been adapted to protect the elite status of these two castes.
For a comprehensive explanation of this theory see, A. C. Clayton, The Rig Veda and Vedic Religion (London: Christian Literature Society for India, 1913).
J. Gonda, “Vedic Gods and the Sacrifice,” Numen 30, no. 1 (July 1983): 1–34, describes Prajapati as being identical with his creation, which includes the sacrifices and ritual elements he has emitted (18). Dominic Goodall, ed., Hindu Scriptures (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1996) Prajapati is a creator god in the late Vedic hymns (Rig Veda X, cxxi). Later the name (which means “lord of offspring”) came to be used as an epithet of Visnu, Siva and other progenitors (400).
Rig Veda 1.68.4; 1.70.10; 3.51.5; 4.19.1-2; 4.37.8; 6.25.8; 7.21.7; 7.40.1; 8.3.6; 10.130.3; Satapatha Brhmana 22.214.171.124; 126.96.36.199.
See also, Joseph Padinjarekara, Christ in Ancient Vedas (Burlington, Ontario: Welch Publishing, 1991).
T. V. Philip, “Krishna Mohan Banerjea and Arian Witness to Christ: Jesus Christ the True Prajapati,” Indian Journal of Theology 29, no. 2 (June 1980): 74, 79.
Krishna M. Banerjea, The Arian Witness: Or the Testimony of Arian Scriptures in Corroboration of Biblical History and the Rudiments of Christian Doctrine Including Dissertations on the Original Home and Early Adventures of Indo-Arians. (Calcutta, India: Thacker, Spink, and Company, 1875); Padinjarekara, Christ in Ancient Vedas.
Daniélou, A Brief History of India, argues that Hinduism is not a religion in the generally accepted meaning of the word. Hinduism, according to Danielou, is a philosophy, a way of thinking, which penetrates and coordinates all aspects of life and seeks to harmonize it with an infinitely diversified world whose fundamental causes are beyond the grasp of humankind (318). Danielou’s assessment of Hinduism is helpful but overlooks the possibility that it is a collection of religions connected by a central philosophy, namely the doctrine of reincarnation.
R. C. Zaehner, Hinduism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966) Zaehner describes the centrality of the caste system and how it is an inseparable part of Hinduism. He writes, “According to Hinduism dharma men are not born equal; they are born into that situation of life for which their past karma has fitted them. The inequalities that the system imposed and made permanent were not, then, generally felt to be unjust since they were quite simply the result of good or bad deeds performed in former lives” (109). He continues by writing, “In the great texts of classical Hinduism the mixture of castes was considered the most appalling sin and one of the signs that the end of the world is nigh (109).”
Mariasusai Dhavamony, Classical Hinduism (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1982), 172.
H. Aguilar, The Sacrifice in the Rgveda: Doctrinal Aspects (Delhi, India: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1976), 48–49.
Goodall, Hindu Scriptures, 15–16.
In some traditions, Praja͂pati sacrifices himself for the gods, who were once mortal, granting them access to the celestial realm (Satapatha Brahmana 188.8.131.52-14; 184.108.40.206; 220.127.116.11-2; 18.104.22.168).
Zaehner, Hinduism, 41.
Hindu cosmology does not teach that creation was ex nihilo or out of nothing. Instead, the creation is to be understand the gathering or collecting of preexistent material which previously existed in a chaotic state and ordering it into a useable form.
Smith, “Sacrifice and Being,” 71.
Dhavamony, Classical Hinduism, 58.
Rig Veda 10.90.1-16.
Dhavamony, Classical Hinduism, 115.
Zaehner, Hinduism, 44, writes that the sacrifice of the primal man is a myth that is probably the survival of a system of human sacrifice once practiced among the ancestors of the modern Hindu religion. .
Rig Veda 10.121; 10:129.
Dhavamony, Classical Hinduism, 172.
Aguilar, The Sacrifice in the Rgveda, 48.
Smith, “Sacrifice and Being,” 77.
Aguilar, The Sacrifice in the Rgveda, 16–17, provides a list of interpretive frameworks such as: ritualistic, naturalistic, evolutionistic, symbolic, psychological, and meta-physical interpretations. “Modern Hindu Interpretation of the Scriptures: Swami Dayanand Sarasvati and S. Radhakrishnan,” Indian Journal of Theology 31, no. 3 (December 1982): 175–81 Swami Radhakrishnan, a contemporary Hindu scholar, writing on the role and authority of the Vedas purports that the Vedas are only authoritative on the grounds that they express the experiences of those who are experts in the field of religion (179). In other words, the outsider has no grounds for properly interpreting the text.
Aguilar, The Sacrifice in the Rgveda, 6.
Carl Olson, Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 28.
Satapatha Brahmana 22.214.171.124.
Satapatha Brahmana 126.96.36.199.
Satapatha Brahmana 188.8.131.52.
Satapatha Brahmana 184.108.40.206.
Satapatha Brahmana 10.2.2.1.
Gonda, “Vedic Gods and the Sacrifice,” 8.
Smith, “Sacrifice and Being,” 76.
Satyakam Vidyalankar, The Holy Vedas: A Golden Treasury (Delhi: Clarion Books, 1998), Atharva 4.2.7.
 René Girard, Sacrifice, trans. Matthew Pattillo and David Dawson (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 9.
This statement is not to be understood as denying the incarnation of the eternal God in the person of Jesus Christ. Instead, I am simply denying the primary principle associated with pantheism, namely, that God is not in everything and everything is not God.
Philip, “Krishna Mohan Banerjea and Arian Witness to Christ” At the age of 18, Krishna Mohan accepted Christian faith and joined the Anglican Church. In 1839, after his theological studies in Bishop’s College, he was ordained and was the first Indian to become a priest in the Anglican Church in Bengal. He was in charge of Christ Church at Cornwallis Square for several years and then a professor at Bishop’s College. He was also the first president of the Bengal Christian Association when it was organized in 1868 (74).
In the Arian tradition, the primary character in the flood story is referred to as Manu.
Krishna M. Banerjea, Two Essays As Supplements to The Arian Witness (Calcutta, India: Thacker, Spink, and Company, 1870), 60–70.
See, Goodall, Hindu Scriptures, 16–17.
Banerjea, The Arian Witness, Chapters 4 –8.
See, “Modern Hindu Interpretation of the Scriptures: Swami Dayanand Sarasvati and S. Radhakrishnan” Radhakrishnan contends that the Vedas are not to be interpreted as doctrine based on revelation but as the attaining of higher knowledge through a process of intuition or seeing (179). This process is off limits to the Hindu layman.
Banerjea, The Arian Witness, 194–95.
Philip, “Krishna Mohan Banerjea and Arian Witness to Christ,” 80.
Banerjea, The Arian Witness, 196–97.
Padinjarekara, Christ in Ancient Vedas, 9–13.
Ibid., 165–66 Substituting the Purusa for Jesus, Padinjarekara writes, “Purusa is the highest and supreme goal,” and “To know the Purusa is eternal life.” These examples are but two of many in which Padinjarekara misrepresents both Purusa (Prajapati) and Jesus.